Federal judge orders injunction against law; SEIU 'home health care dues skim' continues
A federal court judge ordered the State of Michigan to continue deducting dues from Medicaid checks and send it to the Service Employees International Union, in direct conflict with a state law signed in April by Gov. Rick Snyder.
If unchallenged, this would mean the so-called "home health care dues skim" would go on through February of next year.
Judge Nancy G. Edmunds of the U.S. District Court of Eastern Michigan handed down the order after a brief hearing in Detroit. The gist of Edmunds' ruling was that because Michigan's Employment Relations Commission recognized the forced unionization of tens of thousands of so-called home health care workers in 2005, the state is on the hook for fulfilling the contract obligations with the union.
In making her decision, Edmunds chose to ignore several elements. Among these is the established fact that the alleged employer in the case, the Michigan Quality Community Care Council (MQC3) no longer claims to be the employer and the fact that (since being defunded by the legislature) the MQC3 has had only a single employee who works out of her house in Okemos for three hours or less a month so she can continue to collect unemployment benefits.
Additionally, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, the union has given the MQC3 at least $12,000 to keep it afloat. Whether those who were unionized were ever eligible to even be considered as public employees in the first place also is an unanswered question.
Instead, Judge Edmunds determined that it had been up to MERC to weigh such issues and decide if the unionization process was valid. Since MERC certified the process in 2005, the resulting contract remains in effect for the duration.
Judge Edmunds' definition of the duration included the six month extension SEIU and MQC3 signed in April. That agreement, signed on the day Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation to end the "dues skim," moved the final contract day from Sept. 20, 2012 to Feb. 28, 2013.
"This was a victory for the underhanded actions that took place when Jennifer Granholm was governor," said Patrick Wright, senior legal analyst for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. "This judge was unwilling to unpack and examine the history of those actions."
Under Gov. Granholm, state bureaucrats allowed the SEIU to pencil in MQC3 as a dummy employer for the unionization effort. A majority of those unionized under the scheme are not professional home health care workers; they are people who take care of homebound relatives or friends, and most had no idea they were being unionized.
To date, the SEIU has taken more than $30 million from the checks of so-called home health care workers. If the scheme continues to the end of February 2013, it would be about $35 million.
Scott Kronland argued the case for the union. He was with a small contingent representing the SEIU who traveled to Detroit from San Francisco.
Kronland opened his arguments by asking the court for a preliminary injunction to stop the state from ending the collection, which had been collecting in escrow since late May, and transfer the dues and fees before June 25, which would be the next scheduled date for the transfer to take place.
"The defendants (the state) aren't going to suffer, [if the dues flow continues]," Kronland argued. "The union, a First Amendment advocacy organization, will suffer irreparable damage."
Among the damages the SEIU would suffer, Kronland said, was being denied use of the money (about $3 million) during the upcoming election.
Ray Howd, assistant attorney general, handled the hearing for the State of Michigan. His basic argument was that the contract had been between the MQC3 and the union.
"The two public entities that entered into this agreement were separate from the ones that are being represented here," Howd told the court. "They (MQC3) should be here."
There was no testimony taken in the case. Edmunds said that, prior to the hearing, she had read legal briefs that had been handed in. During the hearing she listened to oral arguments from both sides.
Edmunds' ruling that the "skim" continue could be appealed.
"Before determining that (an appeal) we'll have to study the judge's written opinion," Howd said.
Wednesday's court action keeps the"skim" going despite the following:
In 2011, the legislature defunded the dummy employer, the Michigan Quality Community Care Council, with which the union had its collective bargaining agreement.
The MQC3 no longer claims it is the employer of the home health care workers.
MQC3 was kept alive by SEIU funding, with its director Susan Steinke working out of her home – and restricted to three hours or less a month so she can continue to draw unemployment.
This year, Michigan's legislature passed legislation designed to stop the "skim."
In April, Gov. Rick Snyder signed the legislation designed to stop the "skim."
In May, Attorney General Bill Schuette issued an opinion that the "skim" should be halted.
"It shows how deeply the union managed to embed all of this," Wright said. "She [Edmunds] simply took it on face value that because MERC certified it, that meant it was legitimate to consider these people public employees."
During the hearing, Edmunds pointed out that so far Snyder had not taken actions, such as replacing members of the MQC3 Board. The context of this remark seemed to be that the administration hadn't been actively pursuing MQC3 changes. A majority of the members of the MQC3 board serve at the pleasure of the governor. However, it is not clear whether changing the board members would have affected the out come of the hearing.